How does the relationship between young adults and technology influence the future of our world?

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Answered by: Jess, An Expert in the 20-somethings Category
It isn’t difficult in the modern world to encounter controversy over technology. Ask Dad, Grandma, and Aunt Sally, and they will all have some complaint about how computers are ruining our lives, smart phones are consuming our time and money, and the Internet is taking the place of wholesome activities like spending time with friends or immersing oneself in a good book. Then ask the youth of America, and they’ll tell you that smartphones are essential to life; that, in fact, the technological revolution has only begun, and the Internet is the greatest stride humanity has made since written language itself. The answers are different as typewriters and touch screens.



     The controversy, however, can be found on a deeper level than grandma’s staunch belief that Facebook is a sign of the apocalypse. In the scholar’s world, the debate does not only concern the omnipresent nature of the Internet but also the transformations it has affected on the human mind and its thought patterns and processes-- especially those of the younger generations. Mark Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory University and author of the novel The Dumbest Generation believes that the Internet, with its instant information and rapid-fire entertainment, has quenched the “thirst for knowledge” that should be present in America’s socialized, independent, and ambitious youth. Citing a Pew survey called “What Americans Know” which shows that 34% more people aged 18 to 29 than aged 50 to 64 possess “low knowledge levels,” Bauerlein claims that though young Americans have more educational opportunity than any generation before them, they have the least amount of knowledge-- and a paltry amount of potential.

     Knowledge in the form of facts, however, may not be an accurate representation of intelligence or potential by any means. Yale graduate Sharon Begley argues that America’s youth, with Google at their fingertips, “care less about knowing information than where to find information.” She cites the work of cognitive psychologist John Horn, who defined two different intelligences that make up a person’s general intelligence: fluid intelligence, or one’s ability to problem solve, and crystallized intelligence, or one’s ability to use knowledge, skills, and experience. While crystallized intelligence increases with age, fluid intelligence reaches its peak in young adulthood, meaning that youth have more ability to analyze and think critically and logically than any other age group.



     Today’s youth have realized that the Internet is an endless cache of instantaneous, portable crystallized intelligence. Young adults and technology are posed to change the dynamics of business and education: with Google as essentially a second brain, youth have access to a limitless online accumulation of crystallized intelligence as well as their already high amounts of fluid intelligence, making them possibly the most capable members of society.

     It is unarguable that a certain compilation of knowledge within one’s own mind is necessary for competence in any facet of life. Skill-based knowledge such as basic problem solving and writing abilities, as well as essential understandings of core subjects in school, are are necessary capacities for the present generation no less than past generations. Yet, while accounts of students who do not recognize the name Joseph Stalin or the formula y=mx+b are the nightmares of scholars who fear impending dystopia, can it be proven that such knowledge is essential or necessary? Are younger generations, in their alleged lack of fact-based knowledge, less intelligent or capable than their older counterparts?

     Technology, as Begley asserts, is changing the way we think. Attention spans are shortening, deep learning is becoming extinct, and, to Bauerlein’s point, knowledge of facts is dwindling. Yet IQs, and the fluid intelligence they measure, are climbing; new industries are being birthed; globalization is playing out at our fingertips. It may come down to a question of depth versus breadth of knowledge, or the possession of deep knowledge versus the ability to employ information through thought, analyzation, and action. “We are gradually changing from a nation of callused hands to a nation of agile brains,” says Marcel Just, a cognitive scientist of Marcel University. And this change will not stop at intellectual reform; perhaps, through the relationship between young adults and technology, which catalyzes the globalization of our knowledge, we can become a nation-- and world-- less reliant on the institutions and traditions of the past and more open to the progress, social transformation, and equality of the future.

References:

1. Bauerlein, M. (2008). The dumbest generation: how the digital age stupefies young

     Americans and jeopardizes our future (or, don't trust anyone under 30). New York, NY: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin.

2. Begley, S. (2010). The dumbest generation? Don't be dumb. Newsweek. Retrieved from

     http://www.newsweek.com

3. Horn, J. and Cattell, R. (1967). Age differences in fluid and crystallized intelligence. Acta

     Psychologica, volume 26. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com.

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